Sink or Swim Review
Gilles Lellouche has built up a solid reputation over the years, starring in numerous acclaimed French thrillers, several of which were directed by fellow actor Guillaume Canet. For new comedy Sink or Swim (Le Grand Bain, 2018), the two stars have exchanged places, with Lellouche taking on directing duties, whilst Canet is cast in one of the leading roles. The film follows Bertrand (Mathieu Amalric on good form), who has been suffering from depression and not worked in over two years. He has the nice house, a supportive wife (Marina Foïs), and yet seems to have lost purpose in life. The kids no longer understand their father, who just seems to continually pop pills and while away his time on the sofa playing Candy Crush. All this changes when he sees an advert at the local pool seeking new members to join an all-male synchronised swimming team. Bertrand is duly intrigued and those inviting words “amateurs welcome” are enough to encourage him to sign up.
If the storyline sounds remarkably like British comedy Swimming with Men, which also surfaced during 2018 in cinemas, that’s because both films were inspired by the same true story of a team in Sweden (also the subject of a 2010 Swedish documentary). Despite Swimming with Men featuring a cast of familiar British faces, including talented comic Rob Brydon in the lead, it failed to make much of a splash at the UK box office last summer - no word of a lie. The producers of Sink or Swim must have waited nervously, as their film played out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, before going on general release in France a few months later.
Sink or Swim features a starry cast of its own, with several instantly recognisable French and Belgian actors. Once Bertrand joins the swimming club, he becomes acquainted with its other middle-aged members, all of whom seem to be going through some personal crisis. They confide with each other in the changing room, gradually sharing anxieties, and we learn more about them through a series of vignettes.
The members include ageing rocker Simon (an amusing Jean-Hugues Anglade), who has been chasing his dream of stardom for too many years, yet without even the slightest sniff of success. He’s now relegated to strutting on stage in lowly community halls in between the bingo sessions, whilst his unwilling audience are forced to put down the dobbers and cover their ears in distaste. His long- suffering daughter finally breaks the news to him that he’s not exactly Bowie, so perhaps it’s time for a change in direction.
Meanwhile Laurent (an earnest Guillaume Canet) tries to do the best for his son, whilst going through the agony of a crumbling marriage and struggling to connect with his mother who now resides in a home. Then there’s failed businessman Marcus (Man Bites Dog star Benoît Poelvoorde), who’s sinking in debt and about to go bankrupt for the fourth time - nobody in France wants to buy his luxury pools it seems. He’s a resourceful guy though – or so he thinks, always with a scam in mind to keep his head above water.
The team coach Delphine is nicely played by rising Belgian star Virginie Efira, recently seen in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle and also starring in his next film Benedetta (to be released in 2020). Delphine informs the out of shape group that to succeed as proficient synchronised swimmers, they will need “willpower, grace, rhythm and a healthy lifestyle”, but observes that they currently “dive like potatoes”. There is clearly much work to be done. After Delphine has to unexpectedly step aside following difficulties of her own, tough no-nonsense coach Amanda (Leïla Bekhti) takes up the challenge. When the guys discover that there are World Championships on the horizon for men, they become keen to enter realising that this could give them a lucky break. Wheelchair user Amanda is determined to get them up to standard – even if her unorthodox methods include shouting abuse and giving them a sharp whack if they don’t work hard enough.
Sink or Swim will invariably draw comparisons with The Full Monty, with its comedic take on desperate men bonding and doing the unexpected in order to turn their lives around. Alas, it doesn’t match that film's winning laugh quotient and some of the themes explored here have been tackled with far more imagination elsewhere. Ken Loach’s wonderful Looking For Eric immediately springs to mind. One of the problems with Sink or Swim is the screenplay (co-written by Lellouche) branches off in too many directions, incoporating a silly robbery subplot involving Marcus. It’s just a little too predictable, throwing in the obligatory training montage replete with some clichéd music choices – listen out for Olivia Newton-John’s ‘80s hit “Physical” and Tears for Fears “Everybody Wants to Rule The World”. Despite the dearth of originality, the film does have heart, benefitting from a strong ensemble cast and moments that certainly do raise a smile.
Released on DVD and digital download only in the UK. The film is presented in a widescreen ratio of 2.39:1. The image is satisfactory throughout, with the rugged location work in later scenes looking impressive.
Audio options are French Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1. English subtitles are included.
None. Sadly, StudioCanal haven't included any of the extras that were on the French Blu-ray.